Recent “Industry Prespective” Published in “Ag Professional” Magazine by Kathy Mathers, TFI Vice President of Publis Affairs – As a communicator, largely about policy and associated legal issues, I welcome the opportunity to serve as a member of The Fertilizer Institute’s (TFI) policy management team. In this role, I am constantly reminded of the critical role that good communication efforts and overarching initiatives play in supporting the Institute’s regulatory and legislative efforts on the fertilizer industry’s behalf.
As TFI has noted in previous Ag Professional columns, the industry and all of agriculture are very much in the bull’s-eye on water quality issues. From issues related to numeric nutrient criteria to the Chesapeake Bay and now the Upper Mississippi River Basin, farmers’ use of nutrients is increasingly coming into question. Many times, activist organizations (note that I don’t use the word “environmentalist,” because that somehow implies that we are not concerned about the environment) sue the U.S. government – usually the Environmental Protection Agency to force action on issues on which the EPA does not have a regulatory
mandate. At times, the agency has settled these lawsuits resulting in an outcome that affects regulated and unregulated entities such as farmers.
While we filed a legal challenge to EPA’s action in Florida and received a positive ruling on some of the issues of greatest importance, TFI and its allies in the agriculture community quite simply cannot afford the financial commitment it would take to challenge the government in every venue in which legislative, regulatory and ultimately legal action takes place. We have to pick our battles carefully and in consort, promote the positive actions occurring within agriculture that protect water quality. Nutrient stewardship based on the 4R’s (use of the right fertilizer source at the right time, at right rate and in the right place) and the work that you as an agricultural professional do to promote it is a key component of this effort.
In recognition that the 4R’s are the positive response to negative NGO and government action, TFI is dedicating a significant portion of its annual operating budget to supporting the promotion of this site and farm specific nutrient stewardship framework, and others are supporting it as well.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) for example, has integrated the 4R framework into its updated nutrient management standard. We encourage you to keep your eyes out for an online training module from NRCS aimed at helping you help your customers to implement 4R based plans to qualify for nutrient management funding.
Additionally, in response to challenges in the western Lake Erie Basin, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources; the Ohio Department of Agriculture and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency have united in encouraging farmers in the area to implement nutrient stewardship plans with 4R nutrient management as the foundation.
There is no need to wait for these organizations to provide additional information on the 4R’s because there is a rapidly building body of information for in the field implementation of the 4R’s at www.nutrientstewardship.com . From the site you will find a multi-faceted focus on the importance of meeting environmental; economic and social sustainability goals. TFI encourages you to take a look at best management practices (BMP) fact sheets as well as other resources to help farmers sustainably use fertilizers. In many cases you will find that your customers are implementing the 4R’s and are just not recognizing it as such or you might find that one, two or three of the 4R’s are being implemented and with some encouragement all components of the system can easily become a part of farm management plans.
In the end, it is very much up to you to utilize your trusted advisor relationship with your customers to ensure that the 4R’s are a part of their farm management plans. When this happens it will be good not only for the environment but also for their bottom lines and the global community that relies on agriculture for a bountiful and nutritious food supply.